Printer Friendly Version

With All Due Respect

Paying tribute to the ancestors
Chinese<br><b>Ancestral Portrait of Prince Shih Wen-ying</b>, late 18th century<br>Ink and colors on silk<br><b>Ancestral Portrait of Princess Shih</b>, late 18th century<br>Ink and colors on silk
Ancestral Portrait of Prince Shih Wen-ying, late 18th century
Ink and colors on silk
Ancestral Portrait of Princess Shih, late 18th century
Ink and colors on silk


Would you recognize these two people as a prince and princess? How can you tell they are royalty? A Chinese person of the 18th century would have known by their royal robes, without even seeing their faces. The prince’s formal blue robe and the princess’s dragon robe were garments worn only by royalty. The jeweled hats and coral and jade necklaces also formed part of the royal costume.

But these paintings are not simply pictures of a prince and princess. They are ancestor portraits, which show family members from earlier generations. In China, ancestors were seen as continuing their existence even after death. Although no longer alive on earth, they were still respected and received lots of attention.

Families held formal ceremonies, offering ancestors their favorite food and burning incense in their honor. To link the ancestors with the living family, the oldest living relatives sat in front of the portraits, on chairs like the ones seen in these paintings. By honoring their ancestors, families ensured a successful future for upcoming generations.

Educators' Evening
October 2003